Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ancestors for the mitochondrial DNA of Richard III

Ancestors for the mitochondrial DNA of Richard III

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


The work carried out at the University of Leicester in 2012 and 2013 by Dr. Turi King on the DNA of a skeleton discovered in the choir area of the destroyed Greyfriars friary in Leicester proved that the skeleton was that of King Richard III, the last king of England of the Plantagenet dynasty. The type of DNA used was that of mitochondrial DNA which is passed down the female line. A mother gives it to all her children, male and female, but it is the female children who pass it on to the next generation.

Richard III left had one legitimate son and two illegitimate children but none of these left descendants. Researchers at Leicester therefore had to find another female of the Plantagenet family who was close to Richard III and who left female descendants. Anne of York, elder sister of Richard III, fitted the bill and left female descendants with at least two descendants alive in 2013, Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig. These two descendants provided DNA samples which matched each other, and that of the skeleton in the car park, Richard III. But where did this mitochondrial DNA come from?

King Richard III

Female ancestors of Richard III

King Richard III was the twelfth child of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (1411-1460) and Cecily Neville (1415-1495). Richard inherited his mitochondrial DNA from his mother, Cecily Neville as did all his other brothers and sisters. The sister who had the necessary modern descendants was Anne of York, second child of Richard Plantagenet and Cecily Neville. Anne of York was born on 10th August 1439 and married twice, first to Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter and secondly to Thomas St. Leger. The second marriage produced an only child, Anne St. Leger, later wife of George Manners, 11th Baron de Ros and mother of Catherine Manners.

On 14th January 1476 Anne of York died after giving birth to Anne St. Leger. Thus if Anne St. Leger was a boy the mitochondrial DNA need in 2012 would have stopped in 1476 as boys cannot pass it on to their descendants. Anne St. Leger married Sir Robert Constable and was the mother of Barbara Constable and Everhilda Constable, the two ancestors of Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig respectively.

Cecily Neville

As said, Richard III and Anne of York received their mitochondrial DNA from their mother Cecily Neville. Cecily Neville was on 3rd May 1415 as a daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and his wife Joan Beaufort. In 1424, when Cecily was nine years old, she was betrothed by her father to his thirteen-year-old ward, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. Ralph Neville died in October 1425, bequeathing the wardship of Richard to his widow, Joan Beaufort. By October 1429 Cecily and Richard were married.

Their first son, Henry of York was born in February 1441 but died young. Their second son, Edward (born 22nd April 1442) went on to become King Edward IV of England. Cecily Neville and Richard Plantagenet then had another six boys, the last of whom was the future Richard III, King of England. In total, Cecily Neville and Richard Plantagenet had thirteen children. All thirteen children received their mitochondrial DNA from their mother, Cecily Neville and she inherited it from her mother, Joan Beaufort.

Joan Beaufort

Joan Beaufort was the only daughter of the four illegitimate children of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (fourth son of King Edward III), and his mistress, later wife, Katherine Swynford. In 1390 her cousin, Richard II, privately declared the four children as legitimate. In January 1396 John of Gaunt married Katherine Swynford after the death of his second wife in 1394. In 1397 the four children were declared legitimate by an Act of Parliament.

In 1391 at the age of twelve Joan Beaufort married her first husband Robert Ferrers, 5th Baron Botiller of Wem and left two daughters and co-heirs, Elizabeth (1393-1434) and Margery (1394-1458) before he died in 1395. Elizabeth Ferrers married (c.1407) John de Greystoke and left issue while Margery married her stepbrother, Sir Ralph Neville, son of Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland and also left issue.

In February 1397, at Beaufort castle, Joan Beaufort married Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland as his second wife. They had nine sons and five daughters. The mitochondrial DNA that Joan Beaufort inherited from her mother, Katherine Swynford, was passed to all her children. The DNA inherited by her sons ended with their deaths but it continued in her daughters descendants. Of the five daughters, the eldest, Joan Neville became a nun while the second daughter, Katherine Neville married four times, firstly, in 1411, to John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (one son), secondly to Sir Thomas Strangways, thirdly to John Beaumont, 1st Viscount Beaumont, fourthly to Sir John Woodville (son of Earl Rivers).

The third daughter, Eleanor Neville (1398–1472), married firstly to Richard le Despencer, 4th Baron Burghersh (no issue), secondly to Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland (seven sons and three daughters with female descendants);[1] while the fourth daughter, Anne Neville (1414–1480), married firstly to Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham (six sons and four daughters with female descendants),[2] secondly to Walter Blount, 1st Baron Mountjoy (four sons and two daughters).[3] The mitochondrial DNA of Joan Beaufort would pass down the female descendants of her children and thus a female descendant may be living today of her daughters and if so would have the same mitochondrial DNA as King Richard III.

The fifth daughter of Joan Beaufort was Cecily Neville (1415–1495), and she married Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and was the mother of King Edward IV and King Richard III.

When Ralph Neville died in 1425 the vast bulk of his estate should have gone to the eldest son by his first wife but Joan Beaufort was too strong of a personality and had powerful royal connections to back up her claims. Thus she took a substantial part of the Neville estate for her own use and for the inheritance of her children.

Katherine Swynford

Joan Beaufort was the only daughter of Katherine Swynford and thus inherited the mitochondrial DNA of King Richard III from her. In turn Katherine Swynford was the youngest daughter of Sir Payn Roet and an unknown woman. Katherine Swynford was born about 1350 and in 1367 married Sir Hugh Swynford (1340-1372) of Coleby, Lincolnshire. The couple had one child, a son called Thomas, born in 1368. Thomas Swynford served in the retinue of Henry, Earl of Derby (afterwards Henry IV), as early as 1382. Thomas Swynford was left one hundred marks by John of Gaunt in his will. He supported Henry IV on his accession to the throne, and was one of the guardians of Richard II. In 1402 Thomas Swynford was sheriff of Lincoln and in 1404 he was captain of Calais for his half-brother, John Beaufort.

Thomas Swynford had inherited lands in Hainault from his mother, and, being unable to establish this claim through the doubts cast on his birth, obtained a declaration of legitimacy from Henry IV in October 1411. He died in 1433, leaving two sons, Thomas (1406–1465) and William.

Sir Hugh Swynford had served with John of Gaunt in Gascony and this connection brought Katherine Swynford into the company of the Duke. Katherine Swynford became governess to the daughters of John of Gaunt, Philippa and Elizabeth. After the death of John's first wife Blanche in 1369, Katherine and John began a love affair which would bring forth four children born out of wedlock and would endure as a lifelong relationship. The eldest child, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, was possibly born in about 1372. The four children (John, Earl of Somerset, Henry, Bishop of Winchester, Thomas, Earl of Exeter and Joan) took Beaufort from their father's castle of that name in Anjou. Their relationship continued even after 1371 when John of Gaunt took Constance, elder daughter of Peter the Cruel of Castile and Leon as his second wife.

Katherine Swynford

The St. Albans chronicler asserts that the open manner in which the Duke lived with Katherine Swynford caused much scandal in the early part of Richard II's reign. The scandal was just more ammunition for those who opposed John of Gaunt as he was one of the most unpopular members of the government and was a prime target of the rioters in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. But in that year John of Gaunt repented of his conduct and withdrew from her company. Katherine Swynford and her daughter Joan Beaufort were afterwards in the household of Mary de Bohun, the wife of Henry of Lancaster.

Constance of Castile died in 1394 and in January 1396 John of Gaunt married Katherine Swynford. Katherine Swynford died at Lincoln on 10 May 1403, and was buried in the choir of the cathedral.

Sir Payn de Roet

As said, Katherine Swynford was the youngest daughter of Sir Payn Roet and an unknown woman. Payn de Roet took his name from Roeulx, or Le Rœulx, a town about 8 miles north-east of Mons in the County of Hainaut. It is suggested that Payn de Roet was a member of a collateral line of the last lord of Roeulx, descendants of the Counts of Hainault. Payn de Roet may have come to England as part of the retinue of Philippa of Hainaut in 1327 when she came to marry the young Edward III. Yet his name does not appear in the official list of knights who accompanied the queen from Hainaut.[4]

Whenever Payn de Roet came to England he was soon seen by the King and Queen and was considered a person of standing. King Edward III granted Payn de Roet the title of Guyenne King of Arms for the territory of Guyenne (Aquitaine) which was then under English control. In 1347, Payn de Roet was sent to the siege of Calais as one of two knights deputed by Queen Philippa to conduct out of town the citizens whom she had saved (the so-called Burghers of Calais).[5]

The lost tomb of Payn de Roet by Stephen Dickson

By 1349 Sir Payn de Roet had returned to his lands in Hainaut. Later he went to serve the queen’s sister, Marguerite, when she was Empress of Germany. Sir Payn de Roet died in Ghent in 1380 and his tomb was constructed in the old St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Sir Payn de Roet had three daughters, Philippa, Isabel (also called Elizabeth) de Roet, and Katherine and a son, Walter. Isabel was to become Canoness of the convent of St. Waudru at Mons in Hainaut. In 1366 Philippa married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. They met while still children when they were attached to the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, 4th Countess of Ulster. The youngest daughter Katherine married Hugh Swynford and later John of Gaunt and passed her mitochondrial DNA to King Richard III and his collateral descendants.[6]

The wife of Sir Payn de Roet, from whom the mitochondrial DNA of Richard III came from, is unknown. We are not even told her name or if she was from England or had come over from Hainault. As the children of Payn de Roet appear to have been born in the 1340s it is possible that his wife was English but this is not totally certain.

Further ancestors of the mitochondrial DNA of Richard III

Without a name for the wife of Payn de Roet we can’t trace any further ancestors for the mitochondrial DNA of King Richard III. It may happen someday that a person with no known connections to King Richard III, will have a minor accident in a car park, and their mitochondrial DNA may turn out to be the same as the last Plantagenet king. If the ancestors of this person could be traced, they may bypass the unknown wife of Payn de Roet and provide the name of a mitochondrial ancestor further back in time.


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  1. What an interesting article. Thank you for writing it. There is a slight chance I am a descendant of John of Gaunt & Katherine de Roet Swynford so this is of importance to me.

  2. How would you find out if you were related- or is it possible?

    1. Hello Paula, Worth contacting the University of Leicester as a starting point.
      The link says to write a postal letter to the main address and ask how you can compare DNA results. Niall

  3. Interesting article. Had my DNA done and it said I was related to Richard III by my mtDNA which is Jlc3. Have no idea how I would trace it, as I have scant knowledge of any relatives.

  4. Hello. I also have J1c3 MtDNA but all my family come from the region of Nancy, Grand Est, France. I have a small percentage of British DNA but have no idea how I can connect. My only unknown is Francoise Bringot born in 1767. I can't go further than that in my family tree.

  5. According to the records I have, I can trace my maternal ancestry directly to Katherine Swynford following back from mother to grandmother and so on. So I'm fairly sure that my siblings and I carry her mtDNA.

  6. re: 4th paragraph - It was Catherine Manners (a *daughter* of Anne St Leger) who married Robert Constable.